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12 Books for Young Readers that Made Me Think

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The online reading/writing community has been in a bit of a buzz since the publication of an article stating that adults should be ashamed to read books for teens and children. As somebody who wrote an undergrad thesis on the importance of the YA genre (both for teens and adults) I am also, understandably, a little annoyed by this mentality.

However, a lot of wonderful posts have already addressed the issue in very eloquent terms. So I instead am just going to give a list of some of the books for young readers (YA mostly, but a few middle grade) that influenced me.

1. Wonder by J.R. Palacio

I read this one for my mom’s book club. It’s about a boy with a misshapen face starting his first year at school. The book contains several viewpoints, so the reader sees the struggles not just of the boy but those close to him as well.

wonder

 

2. Unwind by Neal Shusterman

This book is simultaneously chilling and thought provoking. It asks big questions about how we confront the unknown and how to deal with people who see things differently than we do.

unwind

3. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Not only is this book written for teens, it’s also written as a graphic novel. A double whammy as far as literary quality goes, right? Wrong. Yang uses the graphics to express things that I just can’t see working as well with only words. This book is for anyone who has a side to themselves they’re embarrassed about.

GeneYang-AmericanBornChinese-cover

4. Ever by Gail Carson Levine

I picked this book up expecting a fairy tale. I also found a beautiful story about faith and believing in things we can’t see.

ever

5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I just don’t have words for how I feel about this book.

bookthief

6. Blue Lipstick by John Grandits

This is a book of concrete poems, some silly, some profound, and all relatable.

BlueLipstick

7. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

If I had one word to describe this book, I would say chilling. Anderson chronicles the life of a girl with anorexia.

wintergirls

8. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

I can count on one hand the number of books that made me cry. This is one of them.

freakthemighty

9. Tenderness by Robert Cormier

I mentioned that Wintergirls was chilling. Tenderness is worse. It’s probably the most disturbing book I’ve ever read. And I loved it.

tenderness

10. The Giver by Lois Lowry

A lot of critics are saying that dystopia has been overdone in YA, but I still love it. And for me it started with this book. Dystopic stories allow us to ask questions about what society is and how it should be. It allows us to wonder what we as humans are capable of.

thegiver

11. Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

One of my favorite novels in verse. For me, it was an insight into a world I knew nothing about.

makelemonade

12. The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender

There are a lot of Holocaust stories, but this one is my favorite.

thecage

This was going to be a list of 10 books, but it has turned into 12. There are more I could include. YA can in fact be quite thought provoking.

So take that online, YA-bashing article!

 

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We Need Diverse Books

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The great thing about books is that there’s always room for more. This week I’m going to be participating in a online campaign called We Need Diverse Books. I often shy away from campaigns like these, not because I dislike diversity, but because I dislike feeling ashamed of being white. I don’t like feeling like I should apologize for being who I am.

But encouraging books with diverse characters doesn’t mean that books with neutral (white, heterosexual, able-bodied, no strong religious convictions) characters by neutral authors are bad, or that we need less of them. It just means that we need more books with diversity by diverse authors.

In particular, I want to talk about the lack of books about religiously diverse characters in YA fiction. I’m LDS, and I think it would be awesome to read a mainstream YA book where the main character is a Mormon. But the only one I have ever heard of is Ellen Hopkin’s Burned, which from the reviews I’ve read grossly misrepresents the LDS church. It has a lot of key facts wrong which distract from what otherwise could be a very potent message.

Now I’m aware that the LDS church isn’t perfect, and I’m sure there are oppressive families like the one discussed in Hopkin’s book. Religious radicalism is a real problem that’s worth being talked about. But as somebody who has had quite a bit of exposure to the Mormon culture, I can say that it isn’t the norm by any means. However, when Burned is the only YA book on the shelves about a Mormon, it makes it seem like that’s the norm.

For instance, what if the only book on the shelves that featured Islam was about al-Qaeda? Maybe it’s a very well written, thought provoking book that asks important questions. But if it’s the only book about Muslims, it is going skew perceptions of Islam and Muslims.

It makes me sad to think that Burned may be the only exposure some teens have to Mormonism. That they’d come away from it thinking that people of my faith can’t read Harry Potter or that we have to go to three hours of youth group a week where people give droning testimonies (youth group for me was 1 hour, and frequently consisted of marshmallow dodgeball).

I want to read a book that shows the other side of Mormonism, the side that shows the loving religious community I grew up with. A book about Mormons who are actively searching for truth and trying to be better people.

And I want books about Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Baptists, Shintoists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Taoists, Hindus, Jains… you name it. With the exception of Francisco X. Stork’s Irises, I can’t remember the last YA contemporary book I read with deeply religious main characters.

More books about people with disabilities. More books with people from different ethnicities and cultures. More books with LGBTQ characters.

After all, reading is about exploring the world. It’s about understanding ourselves and others. Having more diverse books allows us to explore a more diverse world. It makes reading more adventurous.

And I’m all about the adventure.

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Follow the movement on Twitter: #WeNeedDiverseBooks